Water Sustainability Act

The Water Sustainability Act (WSA) was brought into force on February 29, 2016 to ensure a sustainable supply of fresh, clean water that meets the needs of B.C. residents today and in the future.

The WSA is the principal law for managing the diversion and use of water resources. The WSA provides important new tools and updates B.C.'s strategy for protecting, managing and using water efficiently throughout the province.

Learn more about the new Act by viewing the presentation from teleconference sessions held in March and June 2016:

Key Changes Introduced by the WSA

The WSA introduces a number of changes to the way that water is managed in B.C. Key changes under the WSA include

  • Licensing groundwater for non-domestic use
  • New fees and rentals for water use
  • Stronger protection for aquatic ecosystems 
  • Expanding protection of groundwater related to well construction and maintenance
  • Increasing dam safety and awareness

Other changes brought in by the WSA include:

  • Fish Protection Act repealed and provisions brought into the WSA or the Riparian Areas Protection Act
  • Water Act (Part 3) renamed the Water Users' Community Act

Licensing groundwater use

Under the WSA, anyone who diverts and uses groundwater for anything other than household use is required to obtain a water licence and pay water fees and rentals.

Licensing groundwater use establishes equity between surface water and groundwater users, and gives groundwater users rights to use water based on the priority scheme that currently exists. Licensing groundwater use also helps the B.C. Government to understand how much water is being used in the province.

The first three years of the WSA are a transition period to bring approximately 20,000 existing non-domestic groundwater users into the current water licensing scheme. If you use groundwater for any non-domestic purpose, as of February 29, 2016 you are required to apply for a water licence to maintain your right to use groundwater.

New fees and rentals

Application fees and annual rental rates have changed under the WSA. Existing groundwater users who are now required to apply for a licence will be exempt from paying the application fee until December 31, 2017. Rental rates for existing groundwater use are the same as those for surface water use. Annual water rentals for existing non-domestic groundwater users began to accrue starting February 29, 2016, regardless of when an application for a licence is submitted within the three-year transition period. 

Regulations

Much of the detail about how the general principles laid out in the WSA are to be applied will be provided in regulations. Due to the complexity of the WSA and the number of proposed regulations, government is taking a phased approach to implementation.

In general, the new WSA regulations

  • Maintain many elements of the historic Water Act regulations
  • Contain updated legal language
  • Include section references and terminology aligned with the WSA
  • Revise some historic policies
  • Introduce new policies authorized by the WSA, including groundwater licensing

The following regulations were completed in the first phase:

  • Water Sustainability Regulation
  • Groundwater Protection Regulation
  • Dam Safety Regulation 
  • Water Sustainability Fees, Rentals and Charges Tariff Regulation

Now that work on regulations related to essential water management functions is completed, the B.C. government will begin work on other policies and regulatory components required to fully implement the Water Sustainability Act, including those related to:

  • Water Objectives
  • Water Sustainability Plans
  • Measuring and reporting
  • Livestock watering
  • Designating areas
  • Dedicated agricultural water
  • Alternative governance approaches

Follow the WSA Blog to keep up with our progress on this next set of policies and regulations.